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Teens ignoring bans on texting while driving, study shows

young woman driving
Photo: ferrerivideo/iStockphoto

Columbus, OH — Parents of teen drivers, take note: Despite state laws being in place, about one-third of teens say they talk on their cellphones and text while behind the wheel, according to a new study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.

Researchers analyzed survey responses from 16-, 17- and 18-year-old drivers from AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index from 2011 through 2014 alongside state legislation. They found that state laws that ban texting while driving do little to decrease the behavior among teens. Laws banning handheld cellphone use are more effective, with teen drivers who live in states with universal bans engaging in 55 percent fewer handheld cellphone conversations while driving.

Other findings:

  • 39.5 percent of teens in states that have no ban in place reported talking on a cellphone while driving, compared with 16.3 percent in states with bans.
  • 37 percent of teen respondents reported reading or sending a text message or email in the 30 days before the survey, with 18-year-olds (47 percent) doing so more frequently than 16- and 17-year-olds (33 percent).
  • 42 percent of teens text while driving in states where bans are absent, compared with 35 percent where they exist.

“Our study shows that universal bans of handheld cellphone calls while driving can be effective in reducing teens’ handheld conversations while driving, but texting bans are not effective in reducing texting while driving,” Motao Zhu, lead author and CIRP’s principal investigator, said in a Feb. 21 press release. “More states should implement handheld cellphone bans, which have been proven to discourage handheld cellphone conversations while driving.”

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recommends parents and caregivers:

  • Talk with young drivers “early and often” about speeding and distractions.
  • Lead by example and curtail risky behaviors when driving.
  • Use a written agreement to set rules for new drivers.

The study was published online Feb. 21 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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